Getting God Out Of The Closet

At the Edinburgh Festival 2018.

If you’re a minister, you have two choices: you can be a transmitter of the Living God or you can be a museum curator. The museum curator believes that God hasn’t spoken to us since the Bible was written down and that God has no idea that we have grown and developed — or even invented the refrigerator.  But what kind of God would that be?

A dead one.

In reality, no one even needs a priest if they understand that God speaks to all of us all of the time. A priest isn’t special in that respect — the only difference is that we have made a public commitment to turn up and to listen. Unfortunately, most of us don’t even realise that and keep running back to the historical documents to find out what God was saying then rather than now.

One of the things that God was saying then, for Christians at least, was that the veil of the Temple was torn when Jesus died on the cross. That’s the veil that obscured the Holy of Holies; the place where the Divine was said to dwell. That the curtain was torn was a clear message that God did not have any need to be roped off, stuck in a museum; S/He wanted to make it clear that there were no boundaries between us.

God is speaking to us now. Every day, in hearts and minds. But not in our egos. Our egos abhor change; they want it to stay the way it was because that’s easy to police; easy to make people wrong; easy to justify. Change is rarely the easy option. Spiritual growth is nearly always uncomfortable and never convenient. But it is required.

This week there has been an understandable furore over the Vatican’s re-stating that its stance on homosexuality hasn’t changed; that it is a sin and is a ‘chosen’ way of life not something from God. This is not Pope Francis’s view; he is a transmitter of the Living God and has spoken clearly about all of us being God’s children, worthy of love and in approval of civil partnerships. But, unlike US Vice President, Kamala Harris in the House of Representatives, he doesn’t have the deciding vote in the Vatican.

The Vatican’s pronouncement is based on Biblical quotations and the Vatican presumes that God never updated anything. The Vatican is a museum staffed by curators. This, frankly, is daft. Any truly spiritual person will tell you that God is updating, adapting, teaching, advising and most importantly loving, every day. God speaks to us constantly; we simply don’t listen.

All those Biblical quotations that are used against homosexuality come from an era where people were at a different stage of life from where we are today. Jewish folk say the laws are the Word of God and, given that all the Hebrew Testament laws actually make sense for a desert people without hot running water, antibiotics and who could starve to death if their crops failed, then this was a God with some sense.

The Hebrews could also be wiped out by eating contaminated meat or they could destroy the fragile fabric of their wandering tribe with behaviours that were not respectful to each other or those with whom they shared the land. 

A major change in the laws comes with the New Testament with Jesus encapsulating and fulfilling all of them with ‘thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy strength and all thy might and love your neighbour as yourself.’ Trouble is, we don’t love ourselves so we can’t love our neighbour. Instead, we project all our own self-hatred onto our neighbour which means throwing bricks at him or her for breaking our laws.

Please note: when most people say ‘you broke my heart’ they mean ‘you broke my law.’ You violated what I think should happen.

The food laws of the Hebrew Testament are accepted by Christians as having been updated because of St. Peter’s vision (Acts 10: 9-16) where he is shown that previously ‘unclean’ foods are fit for consumption. I often say in my comedy gigs that even atheists should really be grateful to Jesus for, by saying ‘man cannot live by bread alone,’ he did at least invent the bacon sandwich.

Christianity doesn’t follow 95% of the 613 laws in the Hebrew Testament — even the most fundamentalist of Christians violates several of those pretty much every day. And yet no one worries about any of them except one: homosexuality.

The injunction against ‘man lying with man as if with a woman for it is an abomination’ (Leviticus 18:22) is always taken as being against all forms of male gay sex. But let’s look at this in terms of historical context. In Biblical times, young boys were frequently used as temple prostitutes — the temple of Baal was one which carried out this practice for example. These children were usually dead by the age of 12. Nowadays, we call that pedophilia.

People in Biblical times were married within six months of puberty. Generally, they were betrothed as soon as anything swelled or dropped and, frequently, they were married once the girl had proved to be fertile. After marriage, there would be children (plenty of them) and a life to eke out without shops or international trade bringing non-seasonable foods. Often people didn’t have money at all. Their entire lives depended on what they could catch, grow or trade. 

The average lifespan for a woman in those days was 27 years (many died in childbirth). Men generally made it to about 40.

So, there actually wasn’t a lot of time to even work out if you were gay; life really was nasty, brutish and short and people didn’t have leisure time as we do to examine how they felt about things. Of course, there will have been men or women who felt drawn to their own sex but they would still have been married to a member of the opposite sex and getting on with it. Yes, they may have had adulterous affairs — and adultery was a dangerous thing and a threat to the tribe so that was seriously frowned on — but pretty much only for the woman because she was the one who would be giving birth to the result.

They were also pretty hot on reproduction — putting out lots of babies was the only way the tribe could survive and it obeyed God’s command to ‘go forth and multiply.’ At least 50% of children died before adulthood in those days and children were needed to work in the fields and, in the case of daughters, to be traded in marriage. Homosexuality did not increase the numbers of the tribe so it was pointless in that respect — and a waste of good semen!

This was just the stage of life that these folks were at back then and, certainly, we must recognise this. We are at a different stage of life now. Biblical times were not an era where romantic love was even recognized as a reality; marriages were not made for love but to strengthen families and tribes. We really don’t get life in those days and it simply cannot be understood from our modern ‘we have the right to love whom we want or are drawn to’ mindset. They didn’t have that mindset.

The whole ‘go forth and multiply’ thing is also, clearly, out of date. The world has quite enough people, and God is having a go at getting that message through with falling sperm counts and other reasons for infertility. Do we listen?

It’s perfectly valid if you don’t approve of homosexuality; you have the right to your own opinions. But it is not acceptable to take that one Hebrew Testament law out of context. If you preach that homosexuality is an abomination, you must also preach against the following laws. All of them are Hebrew Testament abominations equal to homosexuality — and let’s start with the one broken by every single Christian who’s ever taken communion:

All those who drink alcohol in holy places (Lev 10:9).

All those who have mixed seeds in a patch of ground — that’s pretty much any garden (Lev 19:19).

All those with tattoos (Lev 19:28).

All those who eat fat (Lev 3:17)

All those who wear mixed fibres (Lev 19:19).

All those who have trimmed their beard (Lev 19:17).

All those who have cursed their mother or father (Lev 20:9).

All those who have worked on the Sabbath (Lev 19:31).

All those who have worn clothes belonging to the other gender — that includes women wearing trousers (Deut 22:5).

All those who don’t stand in the presence of the elderly (Lev 19:32).

All those who have touched the skin of an unclean animal — that includes a football, a dog or a cat (Lev 5:2).

There are many more. In all there are 114 ‘sins’ which are abominations in the Bible. And if you condemn one, you have to condemn them all. You don’t get to pick and choose.

To be fair, there are some words from St. Paul in the New Testament too (but none from Jesus) about homosexuality. But this was in a world where Roman men used sex with other men as a way of humiliating their enemies. There is also something about women performing unnatural acts which is always assumed to be lesbianism but is not specific and could equally mean having anal sex or even oral sex with their husbands. 

Let’s quote those things that St. Paul condemned:

fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, those without understanding, covenant breakers, those without natural affection, the implacable, the unmerciful, fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners, effeminate people [Greek: Malakos, meaning soft, lack of self-control and lazy – negative characteristics that were mostly attributed to women in the ancient world but which also meant a man who was being too soppy in his relationship with a woman. The term has long been translated as “effeminate” referring to men but this is inaccurate use of the Greek] and, finally, arsenokoites – abusers of themselves with mankind.

This is the key word – one that was most likely made-up by St. Paul as that’s the first and only time it’s used in the Bible. It most likely relates to sexual or economic exploitation. So while that may involve same-sex behavior, it would be exploitative forms of it, not loving relationships. There is nothing whatsoever in the Bible about loving, committed one-to-one same-sex relationships. Everything there is about forbidding abuse.

Excellent article expanding this, here.

The whole, only and complete point of Christianity is to be and to express love. That’s it. That’s the whole deal. ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ (John 13:34).

And even more: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you’ (Matt 5:44).  If we are spitting hate, or condemning people or making them wrong, then we are not Christians. That includes my friends in the gay community who are hitting back at the Christian bigots. Don’t do it. Let it be. Be love and show us all by your example what true love is.

I promise I will always try to be a transmitter of the Living God.

God bless you all. And if you want some more on this, there’s nowhere better to go than this clip from The West Wing.